Critics’ Picks

Thomas Demand, Turner #31, 2011, pigment print, 53 1/8” x 35 1/5”.

Chicago

“Model Studies”

Graham Foundation
4 W. Burton Pl. Madlener House
March 21 - June 1

“Model Studies” presents Thomas Demand’s photographs of three-dimensional models that he did not make himself, which is something Demand has never done before. If this move seems slight, consider the implications of the German artist’s usual process, which ends with the destruction of the life-size paper environments he meticulously replicates from media images and then photographs—actions that seem to fulfill Jean Baudrillard’s prophesy of a world where simulation is all. Given this, Demand’s choice of subject here is remarkably tangible—twelve fairly beat-up working models by the midcentury architect John Lautner, all bearing the marks of their own history and making, and none of which can (nor should) be destroyed.

Perhaps Demand was never that far from tangibility to begin with. At the Graham Foundation, his photographs appear beside larger groupings of other artists’ works, all curated by Demand and comprising yet another “model study,” this one looking at the different ways models can engender ideas along with forms. Among them are Francis Bruguière’s black-and-white photographs of his own cut-paper abstractions, as sensual as nudes; dozens of 1920s snapshots documenting exhibition projects (three-dimensional thought experiments, really) made by Russian students taking courses on space and volume at the postrevolutionary VKhUTEMAS school; and—few but powerful—Fernand Léger’s briskly executed battleground scenes, sketched as abstractions in situ.

For their part, Demand’s large-scale color photographs home in so closely on Lautner’s models that they could initially be mistaken for abstract paintings. Look again, and that illusion gives way to the insistent materiality of scratched and crumbling surfaces, and on occasion to Lautner’s graffiti-like notations. These may well be the most straightforward images Demand has ever made.